For a few moments in their regional-clinching victory Monday afternoon, it looked like the famed South Carolina postseason magic might be fading, or even turning around on the Gamecocks. A one-out pop fly in the infield that seemed a sure bet to put South Carolina three strikes away from the super regionals instead got lost in the sun and ended up as a "double." A walk and a passed ball put the tying run at the plate with the score 6-3.
After a second out drove in a run, a ground ball hit off Tyler Webb's glove and bounced to the left-field side of the mound, leaving runners on the corner with two outs and the score now at 6-4. Finally, a strikeout of one of Liberty's hottest hitters, Justin Sizemore, brought the game to a close with South Carolina headed to the Super Regionals.
The last few moments of the game emphasized something that the 19-3 blowout of Liberty in the last game South Carolina played had obscured: This is far from a perfect team as it heads to the next round. And particularly if that next round is against UNC in Chapel Hill -- as opposed to against Florida Atlantic in Columbia -- the Gamecocks face a steep uphill climb. As relatively easily as South Carolina got through its regional, this team still doesn't appear to be quite as good as the squads that made three straight College World Series championship series in Ray Tanner's last few years.
But there were times when those teams didn't exactly look like world-beaters; neither the 2010 nor 2011 editions were the favorites of the talking heads, at least. They were just very good teams that got hot at the right time. That's not to say they weren't deserving of the national championships they won; but they had to earn them by first proving that they were deserving.
That's the task that still faces this Gamecocks baseball team. Based on the rough ninth inning Monday, the team still has some proving to do.